Marry The Woman Who Helps You Start A Career as a Video Game Character Artist: The Matt Gilpin Story

Like a lot of artists, Harmonix Lead Character Artist Matt Gilpin was inspired by comic books. He’s even drawn his own comic book, but we’ll get to that…

While Matt has worked on a pile of video games, he didn’t start his art career intending to go into game art. In fact, he tells us, “I didn’t even realize that was a job. I played a lot of [games]. I had the NES and the Super NES and loved playing video games. I loved going to arcades…when I went to college I didn’t have a console and I kind of fell out of it. I didn’t really realize that was [a job]. It wasn’t on my radar.” 

Matt attended Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio and spent time as an illustrator. He worked on animation and eventually 3D computer animation. He says, “Luckily my school was one of the few schools doing [computer animation]. I think literally there were three people doing it in our whole school. I had a fascination with it because it was – to me – the best of both worlds where you could kind of animate something but then adjust the camera to get the best shot. In traditional animation you drew it and that was that. You had to live with your choices.” 

He was working on 3D animation in the hopes of getting into feature film animation, but while he was putting together his demo reel, his girlfriend (now wife) told him about a job at Looking Glass Studios, a video game company in Boston. Matt moved to Boston to work at Looking Glass on games like Flight Unlimited 3 and Thief Gold. He’s been in the game industry ever since. 

Rock Band sticker - "friendly skies"

Matt designed some of the great stickers you can find in the Rock Band Rock Shop. He tells us that a lot of his designs are inspired by ‘60s and ‘70s movies and the vibe they had. He tells us, “I watch a lot of crappy movies. Like really random crappy movies. But good crap. You can see the potential, but they just didn’t execute it right.” In part because of these good-crappy movies, Matt was inspired  to create classic-looking stickers for Rock Band like “friendly skies” (above), “racer” (see the top of the article), and my personal favorite, “playdate” (below). 

Rock Band sticker - "play date"

Matt didn’t just design stickers for Rock Band – he also designed heads. Yes, you read that correctly. He may have designed your avatar’s head or other aspects of your characters. Of creating Rock Band and Rock Band 2 heads, Matt says, that “we basically make all these little parts that have to go together. And getting them all to work together is a monumental task that never seems like it’s gonna work, and then it works.” When asked about his favorite contribution to the Rock Band universe he says, “I think just being a part of it is the best thing.”

In his free time, Matt sketches, practices his 3D modeling, makes papercraft, and gets back to his artistic inspiration with comic books. Matt’s sketches take some inspiration from ‘60s & ‘70s style like his Rock Band sticker work, especially this young lady with her stripy turtleneck and mod haircut.



This long-meeting-induced sketch of classic Halloween monsters also evokes ‘60s movie style.




Speaking of monsters, Matt also designs papercraft creatures, like this little martian. If you like him, you can download the pattern to create him by clicking here (it will open a PDF file).

Papercraft Martian

On the 3D modeling end, Matt created the model below for a challenge to create a model of a mythical creature. The resulting Ahuizotl – a monkey dog - is terrifying.

The mythical monkey-dog Ahuizotl

Matt’s side project to create a minicomic series resulted in Sea Savage, a comic about, “a dude that rides around on a little whale and has these adventures.” The minicomic is “printed on a single 8 1/2 x 11 page then folded in a clever little way to make an 8 page comic - counting back and cover.” The end result is a tiny, concisely-told story in each issue. Working in the comic medium has taught Matt several things about art and story-telling. He says, “It’s a good learning experience, because you learn how to tell the story [concisely]. Instead of using two panels because it won’t fit, I have to tell this in one panel. Or I have to take these three panels down to one and still say exactly what I want to say.” 

Sea Savage minicomic series

All the budding video game artists out there, take note. You need to do more than spend hours playing video games – though that certainly helps. Matt’s inspirations come “from the world around me. I don’t want to be inspired by too much media like games or movies. You can’t help it. They do inspire you when you see them. But if that’s all you’re feeding yourself, I feel like your ideas won’t be as original as if you just go out in life and interact with people. Or travel. Most of my ideas [come] on vacation. When you’re relaxed or out of your normal environment, that’s where I find I become more inspired by everyday kind of things.” He points out that Sea Savage “all takes place around the ocean. I love the ocean…there’s one that’s a surfing episode because I started getting into surfing.” 

If you’d like to see more of Matt’s art, including the work seen here, go to